Leah Marlene’s parents: Everything we know about them

Everybody feels that Leah Marlene’s headed to superstardom, regardless of the result on American Idol. She made it to the top three in mid-May 2022, performing I’ll Stand By You by Carrie Underwood and Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) by Journey. Her family joined the Normal, Illinois, community for a watch party at Normal West High School.

“She knows that no matter what happens tonight, she’s already won,” Leah’s dad, Derry Grehan, told the crowd before the show began. Derry praised the community for supporting Leah. “That’s what’s great about a community like this,” Derry said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Leah’s rockstar dad introduced her to singing and songwriting

Leah Marlene was born in Toronto, Canada, to Derry Grehan, a songwriter and musician with the Canadian band Honeymoon Suite, and Deanna Grehan. 

Marlene’s rockstar father introduced her to singing and songwriting. “My whole childhood, my life was just filled with guitars and amp,” Leah told American Idol. “He was a freaking rock star and last night my dad was there and it was just like a full-circle moment. It was so cool.”

“My dad is an 80s rocker so it’s always been around me.” Derry taught Leah how to play piano and guitar and influenced her songwriting. Leah has sung live in Illinois, Nashville, and Canada since she was 10. 

Marlene performed at local events like the Sugar Creek Arts Festival and Sweet Corn Circus. After graduating from Normal West High School, Leah studied songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville for two years. 

Derry has occasionally celebrated Marlene’s musical achievements via social media. “So proud of my girl Leah for playing her first songwriter round at the Bluebird, Nashville,” he captioned a February 2019 Instagram post. “She nailed it to a full house. I hope it’s one of many.”

Grehan’s bond with Marlene features in a Honeymoon Suite song titled Market Square; lead singer Johnnie Dee enjoyed the pair’s performances so much that he based the song loosely around father and daughter. 

Dee suggested that Leah sing a part of Market Square, and the band found a slot for her at the end of the song. Derry told WGLT:

“I actually got her down in the studio in my house one day and said ‘Leah there’s a little spot at the end where you could kind of answer Johnnie.’ So she tried it and it turned out great, so we put it on there.”

Marlene thanked her private mom for her support through the years

Derry and Deanna met nearly three decades ago in her hometown, Normal, Illinois. Honeymoon Suite was playing at the Peoria Civic Center, and the couple met at a record store that day. 

The pair married in early September 1995 and raised their children in Illinois. Despite a hectic touring schedule, Derry tried as much as possible to spend time with his children. 

“I’m essentially a stay-at-home dad when I’m not on the road,” he once said. “We’re both [Deanna and Derry] very involved with the kids and their school. I really miss them when they’re gone.”

Deanna and Derry raised two children, Shea and Leah, who grew up invested in the arts: Leah in music and Shea in photography. “We all support each other in this family and support each other’s interests,” Grehan told Pantagraph

Leah’s mom, a personal trainer, is much more private than the rest of the family, preferring to stay away from the cameras. She’s nevertheless made a lasting impact on her children’s lives. 

“I would not be anywhere near here if it weren’t for you,” Leah said of her mom on American Idol. Marlene dedicated the song Sanctuary to Deanna, saying: “The best part of making it into the top seven was realizing that I was going to be able to sing a Mother’s Day song for you.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful best friend and momma,” Leah wrote on Instagram in early May 2022. “I am so grateful I get to share how wonderful you are on national tv tonight!!!”

Derry maintained his success in the music industry by refusing to get carried away by success

Derry Grehan wrote Honeymoon Suite’s hit song New Girl Now during his time at Fanshawe College, long before he met his bandmates. Grehan met singer Johnnie Dee in 1982, and together they recruited members for Honeymoon Suite.

A demo recording of New Girl Now won the band a spot in a local competition. Their win granted them valuable exposure and a deal with Warner Music. Honeymoon Suite’s eponymous first album became a massive hit in Canada, the United States, and Europe, sparking a period of sustained success for the band. 

“We were jumping from tour to tour, we had songs on Miami Vice, and things were just cooking along,” Derry told WGLT. “We were on the road constantly … it was a great time.”

On the flip side, touring was exhausting. The band had to attend endless promotional events and mostly slept in their touring bus. Derry continued:

“A lot of times people think we’re all millionaires and it’s such a fantasy, but they don’t see the dirty part of it like sleeping on a bus. So sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality. A lot of bands crashed and burned out of that.”

Grehan opined that he survived the burnout by keeping his head together. The trappings of success – drugs, alcohol, fans, fame – presented another challenge to Derry. Thankfully, Grehan remained focused, refusing to get carried away by success. He explained: 

“I was smart enough to realize that I’m a songwriter, and at the end of the day this is a job that’s actually earning me a living. So everything in moderation. You party a bit, but if you’re not present and your mind isn’t clear, you’re not going to write good songs. And I wanted to stay in it. I didn’t want to get a job.”

With Leah seemingly destined for success, Derry advised her to possess as many song-creation skills as possible – singing, songwriting, and production – to avoid fading away in the ultra-competitive industry.

He also told her to shun money as a motivator for making music. “No. 1, if you’re in music, you don’t do it for the money. Do it for the love,” Derry said. “The money comes in the opportunities, and that’s just the bonus.”